This is one vagary met department couldn’t predict
These installations are not just on land, some of them are at sea. Items being stolen include solar panels, batteries and even data loggers.
The India Meteorological Department recently had equipment stolen from its installation in front of the Amarnath cave in Jammu and Kashmir. The devices had been placed there to collect data for the regular bulletins that the IMD started issuing, after more than 250 Amarnath yatra pilgrims died in 1996 because they had no way of knowing that weather conditions would turn hostile.
With the July-August Amarnath yatra having gotten over, the IMD is removing some of the equipment there so that it doesn’t go missing. “I have asked my team to get all solar panels and other equipment, now that the yatra has ended,” said Laxman Singh Rathore, IMD’s director general.
IMD has installed close to 1,700 automatic weather stations across the country as it tries to forecast climatic conditions across the world’s seventh-largest nation in terms of land mass. The IMD’s most critical task is predicting the June-September southwest monsoon – whether it will be on schedule, whether the optimum amount of rain will fall at the right time and place.
But the theft of automatic weather stations and rain gauge stations, along with vandalism, compromises the network and causes it to collapse, according to officials. These installations are not just on land, some of them are at sea. Items being stolen include solar panels, batteries and even data loggers. “To keep automatic weather stations and buoys in remote corners is a big challenge. Sometimes, 30-40% of our network is down because of this reason,” Rathore said.
Each automatic weather station has a 30 foot mast on which are installed solar panels, antennae and sensors for measuring temperature, humidity, wind speed, wind pressure and rainfall. The readings are transmitted to IMD via satellite. “These are costly equipments from sensors to data loggers, lightning arresters and big batteries of the size of 65 Ah (amp hours) which are being stolen,” said S Krishnaiah, deputy director general of meteorology (surface instruments) at IMD.
“Most of these instruments and solar panels can be used for other applications. Across 50 locations, we have lost different parts since the past two years and have filed police complaints where we could,” he said.
Some of the places where the thefts are taking place, such as the Amarnath caves, are so remote that there is no police station to even file a complaint, IMD officials said. An automatic weather station could cost Rs 6-10 lakh, depending on the equipment installed, according to industry executives.
Ocean buoys cost more – more than Rs 15 lakh. The solution lies in better technology and even improved co-operation among countries, apart from educating people about the benefits that will accrue to them when weatherforecasting equipment is left in place to do its job, according to scientists.
The Chennai-based National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), which has installed 18-20 buoys in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, has seen a reduction in instances of vandalism on the high seas. Things are not as bad as they used to be two-three years ago. “Now, once in a while, we might face the problem,” said NIOT Director M Atmanand.
“But with a change in the design of buoys (moving from solar panels to batteries that have a life of more than a year) and better cooperation from officials of other countries, we are able to overcome the challenge.”